It is rare for me to pick up a book anymore that I have no preconceived notions about. It is hard not to develop some about almost any book when I read so many blogs. I was very excited when I saw The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang on the new arrivals shelf at my library. I had seen it mentioned in a couple of comments at Heavy Medal but knew nothing else about it. Just the title. It was a lovely experience going into the story not knowing what to expect. I can say that it is one that is well worth reading and adding to any library collection (home, classroom, school).
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She's ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother's sister, is coming to visit for several months -- and is staying in Lucy's room. Lucy's vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang.
Her plans are ruined -- or are they? Like the Chinese saying goes: Events that appear to be good or bad luck often turn out to be quite the opposite, and Lucy finds that while she may not get the "perfect" year she had in mind, she can create something even better.
Kids are going to sympathize with Lucy in all sorts of ways. I sympathized with her and really wanted to have a heart to heart with her parents on how unreasonable they are at times. Even when I knew they were right. That is how well Shang conveyed Lucy's emotions. Lucy has all the genuine feelings, frustrations, joys, and concerns of any typical sixth grade girl. There is a boy she likes but is content to sneak looks at. She is afraid of falling on the wrong side of her school's golden girl, who is a mean bully. She feels like her parents don't understand her or care about her feelings at all. There is an element in her story of warring culture. She is a Chinese-American and the American part wins over the Chinese part in many of her choices. Unlike her "perfect" older sister who speaks fluent Chinese and has learned all she can about the culture. This is conveyed with a light touch and, while probably the most element of Wendy's story, never becomes tired or trite.
Then there is Yi Po's story which the teacher/mom in me likes best about the book. There is a scene toward the end where Yi Po is recounting a moment from her childhood. A moment that took place during China's Cultural Revolution. It is a heart wrenching story and is told in such a way that it draws the reader in and manages to educate them on a very important time in Chinese (and therefore World) History at the same time. As most people probably manage to graduate high school without ever hearing about the Cultural Revolution this is a very good thing indeed. It is not the main reason to read the book though, only an added benefit.
The ending was a little too neat and tidy, all loose ends tied up in a pretty bow with curly ribbons, for my taste. But I am a cynical grown up. I can see a kid eating it up because that is the way they want similar situation in their own lives to end. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good contemporary MG novel.